Author Archives: Margaret Hunter

Probsolutely the most useful linguistic collaborations

Susie Dent's Wonderful Words

The word collaboration is from the Latin for ‘working together’. It may be overused as a word, but its results can be remarkable. A well-known story tells how, when John F Kennedy toured NASA in the mid-1960s, he came across a man mopping the floor. ‘What does your job entail?’ the President asked. The reply came: ‘I’m helping put a man on the Moon.’ The exchange between the two men beautifully illustrates the value of a shared objective.

Collaboration can happen linguistically too – notably when words come together and create something new. ‘Brunch’ is a famous example, alongside ‘motel’ and ‘modem’. ‘Blends’ like these are a form of word-play that we have been indulging in for centuries: revellers in the 1800s were already talking about alcoholidays, while nobodaddy was the term du jour for someone who had dramatically fallen from grace. In the 20th century, smog (smoke + fog), ginormous (gigantic + enormous) and piccalilli (pickle + chilli) continued the vogue. One of the best was surely pifflicated – a useful descriptor for the act of ‘being drunk and talking piffle’.

It was Lewis Carroll who gave us the word ‘portmanteau’ for such creations, based on the image of words that are ‘packed together’ like two halves of a suitcase. He himself gave us some of the best – chortle, for example (chuckle + snort), as well as slithy (slimy + lithe) and mimsy (miserable + flimsy).

Today, blending is still the most popular mechanism for creating a new word. Some of the results may be fly-by-nights, but they raise a smile nonetheless. We all know about bromances and labradoodles, but how about anticipointment, the disappointment that comes from something eagerly anticipated? A snaccident, meanwhile, is the inadvertent consumption of an entire packet of biscuits when you meant to have just the one.

Others look set to stay the course – hangry was a recent addition to Oxford’s dictionaries, defined as ‘bad-tempered or irritable as the result of hunger’. Devon’s moodle, meanwhile, meaning to ‘dawdle aimlessly’, is a euphonious blend of ‘mooch’ and ‘noodle’. But if I had to choose a personal favourite from this century, it would be probsolutely: the pithy and highly useful articulation of a ‘definite maybe’.

Hard-working, innovative, useful and fun – linguistic collaborations may not put a man on the Moon, but they can offer some very useful pointers for successful teamwork (no probsolutely about it.)

Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and ProofreadersWonderful Words is a regular feature by Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the SfEP. Susie is a writer and broadcaster on language. She is perhaps best known as the resident word expert on C4’s Countdown.

Building the best team for editorial project management

What is editorial project management?

bringing the pieces together

Editorial project management involves taking a piece of content (primarily words, and related images and figures) from its raw form to its published state – whatever content that may be, and however it is published. Traditional publishing companies have in-house editorial project managers (EPMs), as do many corporations, charities, government bodies, research institutions – any organisation that wants to disseminate information. Those EPMs come with a plethora of job titles: publishing manager, desk editor, content specialist, project coordinator, content lead, development officer. Some organisations use freelance editorial project managers, expanding their publishing team without longer-term overheads.

Editorial project management is, in one way, similar to copy-editing and proofreading: every organisation will do it slightly (or completely) differently. A different workflow, a different content management system, a different scheduling tool, different reporting mechanisms, different responsibilities. Even within one organisation, no two projects will be managed in exactly the same way.

In many other ways, of course, editorial project management is a whole other beast. Whereas copy-editors and proofreaders often work almost in isolation – taking content, doing the necessary task and then returning the content – EPMs have to collaborate with internal stakeholders and external suppliers over schedules that cover a few, or many, months. That collaboration relies on the softer skills: communication, time management, the ability to quickly adapt and learn, cooperation, delegation, networking, organisation, and the ability to prioritise. Technical expertise is less important, but experience and training in other areas of the editorial process can be an advantage when briefing suppliers and checking their work.

Training for editorial project management

A lot of EPMs learn those skills and gain their expertise through on-the-job experience and training. Experience from life outside work – volunteering, running a household, playing an active role in a community – also contributes to building an EPM’s repertoire. To support that knowledge, or to provide a strong foundation on which to build a project management career, the SfEP has launched a new Editorial Project Management course. This online course uses two fictitious projects to guide students through the publishing process and understand what an EPM does. The Publishing Training Centre offers several classroom-based courses covering different aspects of project management.

What does an editorial project manager do?

The actual tasks involved in editorial project management vary depending on an organisation’s needs, but it’s very likely that, over the course of a project, an EPM will need to arrange for the content to be copy-edited, typeset, proofread (at least once) and indexed. That will involve sourcing, briefing and feeding back to the specialists carrying out those tasks. There will be liaison with the author(s) – perhaps also the commissioning team, rights and permissions experts, designers and illustrators. An EPM has to keep all these people and their related tasks (and budgets) on track, being aware of any issues and risks; if issues do arise, they need to be addressed appropriately and quickly so that they don’t snowball into bigger problems.

Building your team

building a team

Freelance EPMs – whether an individual or a company – can be an excellent, flexible resource, enabling organisations to share the workload of a busy team for a specific time period. Those EPMs bring with them a fresh pair of eyes and experiences from other organisations and projects, as well as a network of trusted suppliers. They may also be able to take on other specific tasks in the workflow, such as copy-editing or indexing. Many freelance EPMs are SfEP Advanced Professional and Professional Members and have a listing in the SfEP’s Directory.

A knowledgeable and approachable EPM can make a big difference to a publishing project – getting content out into the wider world requires more than box ticking. The right EPM for a project will not only produce great content but will also build good relationships and unite a team – it is the ultimate exercise in editorial collaboration.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She project manages, copy-edits and proofreads a cornucopia of fascinating material in her editing shed in Essex. Her office assistant, Gaston the Cat, provides no useful editorial support whatsoever.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Sharing is caring: Collaboration among freelance fiction editors

Carrie O’Grady

The other day, I sat down with some of my fellow fiction editors for coffee and a chat. One looked particularly brow-beaten. ‘I’m really stumped on this structural edit of the latest in the Two-Dimensional Murders series,’ she confessed. ‘The author has Miss Scarlet committing the crime in the billiard room with the candlestick. But how she manages to sneak it away from the dining-table unseen, while the rest of the guests are enjoying a candlelit dinner, is beyond me.’

confused

We sympathised. ‘I know just how you feel,’ said another. ‘In the mystery I’m working on, this professor – Plum, he’s called – bumps off the host in the conservatory with a length of lead pipe. It’s causing me no end of problems, considering that the author also has him chatting to the colonel in the lounge at the exact moment the murder is committed.’

‘A good alibi,’ mused a third. ‘Perhaps too good. Is there any possibility of, say, a secret passage?’

‘Why – that’s brilliant!’ gasped the editor. And we all cheered and hugged and congratulated ourselves on another problem solved.

In reality, of course, it’s not like that. Fiction editors, like all other editors, are bound by confidentiality clauses that prevent them from spilling the details of their clients’ plots. (Which is a shame, in a way, because we are all people who love stories and love talking about stories. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to bite my tongue so as not to enthuse to others about a particularly ingenious plot workaround that a client and I have cooked up together.)

That’s not to say that we don’t help each other out. There are certain problems particular to fiction that have no single ‘best-practice’ solution, and it’s not easy to work out which will suit your project best. For instance, say you have a third-person narrator, Emma. As she talks to her friend, Harriet, she is struck by a sudden realisation. How do you convey her thoughts to the reader? Do you put them in italics? In her own words, or yours? Is it lapsing into ‘filtering’ to tell us that ‘it darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself’?

Questions such as these are easily phrased so as to give away little or nothing about the nature of the book. They often crop up on social media or in the SfEP forums, where other editors love to pitch in with suggestions. The supportive nature of the community is astonishing; new entrants to the field are greeted with a chorus of warm wishes and friendly advice.

What’s particularly useful about Facebook and its ilk, to fiction editors, is its international breadth of expertise. Say your client, a Brit, has penned a romance set in Seattle. ‘Perhaps he simply doesn’t fancy me,’ sighs the heroine. You know it’s not quite right, but if you haven’t heard much American slang, it can be hard to reword such a line so that it sounds remotely convincing. Ask the internet, and a chorus of voices will sing out across the Atlantic: ‘Guess he’s just not that into me!’

Fiction editors around the world are constantly giving each other tips on other regional matters, such as copyright law and cultural sensitivities. When e-books can be read anywhere across the globe from Day One of publication, there is great scope for offence in even the most innocuous novel. And we all know the damage even a single outraged Amazon review can do.

coffee break

The most rewarding form of collaboration, though, is the kind where we really do get together, in person, and sit down for a coffee and a chat. The SfEP annual conference is one such occasion, warmly anticipated by many editors around the UK and beyond. Smaller workshops throughout the year are organised cooperatively, with the twin aims of improving our professional skills and building personal links with our colleagues.

We may be prohibited from sharing our clients’ stories, but there’s nothing we like better than sharing our own. This is not just editorial self-indulgence. Having such a collaborative network ultimately helps our clients too, and it hopefully means the published work is even better for some collective input.

Carrie O'GradyCarrie O’Grady is a fiction editor and former reviewer for the Guardian. You’ll find her at the Hackney Fiction Doctor or on Twitter at  @carrietoast.

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Find a professional proofreader or editor using the SfEP Directory

Search the SfEP Directory for a proofreader or editor

If you’re looking for a professional proofreader, editor or editorial project manager, or to build a team of editorial professionals, the SfEP Directory of Editorial Services provides details of the skills, subjects and services offered by around 700 SfEP members, a non-profit professional association.

Only Professional and Advanced Professional Members can advertise in the Directory – our top two tiers of membership – so you can be sure they have attained a certain level of competence and experience.

Here are some ways you can direct your search, using keywords:

  • Search all members – members are listed alphabetically by first name.
  • Search for either Professional or Advanced Professional Members only – again, members are listed alphabetically.
  • Search geographically – most editors are happy to work remotely, but this could be helpful if you would like to find editors in your area, for example if you need them to work on site.
  • Search by industry sector – for example fiction, academic, trade, charity, government, business …
  • Search by subject specialism – anything from gardening, to finance, to science, to cookery; members often list broad subject areas, and some surprisingly specific ones!
  • Search by software – almost all editors use Word and Adobe Reader or another PDF mark-up app, but many also have expertise in other editing, CMS and layout programs.
  • Search for other skills – as well as proofreading and copy-editing, many of our members offer services such as project management, indexing, copyright clearance, research, localisation, translation …
  • Search by client – many members list their recent clients, which can help you assess the fields they work in.

Did you find a good editor via the Directory? Do let us know!

The SfEP encourages companies and other organisations to add a link to the SfEP Directory on their intranets and websites. To make this as easy as possible, we’ve supplied the code to add to your site. See Linking to the SfEP Directory of Editorial Services.

 

The strange (and slightly tipsy) history of ‘training’

Susie Dent's Wonderful Words

The word ‘train’ has led a complicated life, one that has taken in tractors, cloaks, grapevines and royal processions. It all began, like so much else in English, with the Romans, whose Latin trahere meant to ‘pull’ or ‘draw’. The past participle of the same verb was tractus, which hides behind both the ‘pulling’ vehicles that are tractors and the tracts of land they cover, as well as contracts (which draw together arrangements), and extracts (in which something is ‘drawn out’). In sartorial matters, that same, highly versatile Latin word also gave us ‘train’: the trailing part of a skirt, gown or cloak that was dragged across the ground as the wearer moved. From this sense of something being pulled along came the idea of a series or procession of things – a royal retinue perhaps, or a locomotive and the cars coupled to it, or even a figurative train of thought.

It takes some leap of the imagination to go from this sense of ‘dragging’ to the modern training we experience today (even if, on occasions, time can seem to slow down a little). There is a link, however – in the 14th century, to ‘train’ a vine was to draw it out and manipulate it into a desired form – we talk of ‘training’ our roses to this day. This idea of ‘shaping’ something eventually gave rise to our modern business use of training, which aims to mould our minds and equip us for a particular task.

Good training, of course, may require a mentor – a word we inherited from the ancient Greeks, for whom Mentor was an adviser to the young Telemachus in Homer’s epic Odyssey. An effective mentor will always monitor progress, but monitoring wasn’t always so benevolent – it comes from the Latin monere, to ‘warn’, and its siblings include ‘admonish’ and ‘monster’.

All of which might lead you to seek cover in a ‘symposium’, a formal discussion or conference. Or at least, to seek out its earliest incarnation, for in ancient Greece symposia were convivial discussions held after a banquet, and involved copious amounts of wine. Which explains why the word ‘symposium’ is from the Greek sumposion, ‘drinking party’. Now, if we’re looking for ideas, that kind of training might be an even bigger pull.

Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and ProofreadersWonderful Words is a regular feature by Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the SfEP. Susie is a writer and broadcaster on language. She is perhaps best known as the resident word expert on C4’s Countdown.